I play a bit role this week in my friend Jon Heyman’s Stock Watch — I play the part of “creative stat guy.” Let me clear here:
1. I think that’s label is AWESOME. I’d love Creative Stat Guy to be on my business card.
2. Jon is my friend. I’ve worked with Jon, read Jon, and I respect Jon. We don’t see baseball the same way all the time. That’s supposed to be a fun thing.
OK, that out of the way, I got my part in Jon’s column for one of my zillion-shmillion Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera posts — in this one I pointed out that one way that Mike Trout has helped his team (and Miguel Cabrera has not) is by reaching on error. It’s a small thing, minuscule, so unimportant and insignificant that baseball statisticians for more than 100 years have ignored it. No, it’s more than simply ignoring it. They actively have punished players for reaching base on error. They have called those plays “outs” even though no out was recorded. They have refused to give the player credit for reaching base even though the player actually reached base. This is how the game’s most accepted statistics have been figured for a century. As I’ve written before, I think it’s stupid.
OK, so at the time that I wrote this, Trout had reached on error nine times, Cabrera zero. That’s what Jon quotes. Since then, Trout has reached on error two more times, Cabrera is still at zero.
Does this matter? Of course not. It’s a tiny little piece of a large conversation.
But, you know what? Tiny little pieces are what MAKE UP large conversations. Take a look at the three key rate statistics for the two players:
Miguel Cabrera: .353 BA, .446 OBP, .667 SLG.
Mike Trout: .338 BA, .437 OBP, .574 SLG.
OK, you look at that and you say: Cabrera is the better hitter. You spot a guy 15 points in batting average, seven points in OBP and 93 points in slugging, let’s face it, it will be hard to convince people that Trout makes that up in other ways (even if he does).
OK, now just for fun — repeat just for fun — let’s say that the 11 times Mike Trout reached base on error wasn’t counted AGAINST HIM like it is now but was instead counted FOR HIM. Let’s say that all 11 counted as hits. I know it’s an odd concept, crazy even, but for fun let’s just try it. OK? And we’ll count all of those errors as one-base errors for the purposes of slugging percentage. Can I have a recount, maestro?
Miguel Cabrera: .353 BA, .446 OBP, .667 SLG
Mike Trout: .359 BA, .455 OBP, .595 SLG
Wait a minute! What manner of voodoo is this? Now Mike Trout has a better batting average than Cabrera. And he has a higher on-base percentage. And while his slugging percentage is 70 points shy, still a lot, wouldn’t the MVP discussion be slightly different if those were the numbers? Wouldn’t it be a lot harder for Jon to call Cabrera “incomparable” if Trout was hitting for a better average (and he should be), getting on base more (and he is), leading the league in runs (yep), stealing way more bases and playing better defense?
The MVP argument, like many other arguments out there, splinters off into too many questions that are blurry and worn out and, at this point, thoroughly uninteresting to me. You know the questions: What does MVP really mean? How important are the games they played? Who is the better leader? Whose team is in contention? Who makes their teammates better? Who performed better in the important games? These questions to me are either (A) Irrelevant to the point or (B) A matter of emotional opinions.
Jon, in his article, says this: “If the award were simply for the ‘best’ player, (Trout) would have a better case.”
Well, there’s the point. I think the MVP should go to the best player. Period. Nothing else. More people disagree than agree with me on that, I understand, and Cabrera will certainly win the MVP award in a landslide again, and that’s fine. The question that interests me is just this: Who is the better player, Trout or Cabrera? It’s a classic question, like Mantle-Mays, like DiMaggio-Williams, like Clemente-Kaline, like Brett-Schmidt, like Maddux-Clemens.
People have strong feelings on both sides, particularly on the Cabrera side. I guess that’s why I write more about Trout. His greatness, it seems to me, is not as obvious as Cabrera’s. It is not all tied in the batting average, home runs and RBIs that, for years, were the sole definers of a player’s excellence. Sure, I’ll readily admit, we get silly looking at every little thing. But it seems to me if you are going to compare the two best players in baseball — and they are very close — you should look at everything you can.